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Koto vs Gyokko


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Eureka! After 25 years and more than 50 trips to train in Japan I finally understood the footwork difference between Koto Ryû and Gyokko Ryû. Better late than never.

We had a class with Nagato sensei and I couldn’t do the Oni Kudaki he demonstrated until I saw. Hatsumi sensei often speaks about mienai waza, a technique that cannot be seen. For me this, had been mienai for a quarter century.

My taijutsu had been mainly influenced by Noguchi sensei. The reason for that is that Hatsumi sensei in 1993 told me to train exclusively with him and Noguchi sensei. This had been valid until the opening of the honbu in October 1997. I asked him again with whom I should train now and he said only at the honbu and with the Shi Tennô teaching there. So I began to train regularly with Senô sensei, Oguri sensei, and Nagato sensei.As you know each Shihan has his own way of moving and their taijutsu is different from one another. In the past I discovered how difficult Nagato sensei’s movement were for my taijutsu. Until yesterday my eyes were not ready to see it. But yesterday I saw the light!

Each Shihan received, from sensei, some of the schools*. If Noguchi sensei was mainly influenced by the Gyokko Ryû, Nagato sensei was more info the Koto Ryû. These two schools deal with different distances, therefore their footwork is different. Also when you compare the relative sizes of both Nagato sensei and Noguchi sensei you see that their working distances (ie efficiency) will be different.The Gyokko Ryû is short distance. Hatsumi sensei told me once that the Gyokko Ryû distance was about 2 shaku (more or less from elbow to the tip of fingers). The movements are done mainly with a moguri type of feeling, moving vertically up and down, and in circles to compensate for the lack of distance. Conversely in the Koto Ryû, the starting distance is about 6 shaku. Therefore the school uses a lot of jumps forward and backward. The movements are done mainly horizontally. This basic understanding about the two schools explains partially why they merged so well together once they have been reunited**. The two schools are complementary to one another.

We know that Koto Ryû uses Yoko aruki (ties in the same direction) where the Gyokko Ryû uses Jûji aruki (feet perpendicular).We know that in the Koto Ryû the body is placed sideway (profile, flat), where in the Gyokko Ryû the body is twisted upside down to meet with the lack of distance.

Yesterday we did a variation on Oni Kudaki:In the technique uke was attacking right fist. Tori was controlling the space by extending the right arm in omote (no block) and positioning his body  flat outside of the attacking arm. Tori has his left foot forward, his body parallel to uke’s arm.Then Tori deflects and bends uke ‘s arm and moving forward places a kind of Oni Kudaki. I’m sure that everyone understands it.I couldn’t do it because when applying the waza I was stepping forward with my back leg (right) causing my body to twist to the left (typical Gyokko Ryû footwork). Nagato sensei was simply shifting his body weight so that he would “walk ” directly with his left leg creating an automatic off balancing of uke to the rear.Then this would open what I call a typical “Nagatoism” with the usual switch of hands and death of uke.

By simply changing the weight in your legs and moving the front leg instead of the back leg you keep your body in line and can walk or jump through uke. I have seen this for years but as I was focusing on the wrong thing, it is only yesterday by watching exclusively the feet that I could finally see it.

I have been training here over fifty times and each time I learn new basics. This is amazing. But it makes me wonder about the teachers coming here every two or three years and thinking they understood it all.

As I wrote in a previous blog article “rank is not competence” and quoting Nagato sensei yesterday during the break: “the rank you have is based solely on your own personal scale “***. I guess that some have tiny scales but it is not important because we all know that size doesn’t matter.

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* I think they got three ryûha each (tbc).
** at some point in History the Sôke of Gyokko Ryû having no successor asked his friend the Sôke of Koto Ryû to teach it together. And this is how these two systems, still taught separately, ended together. 
*** his point was to not compare yourself to any other martial artist inside or outside the Bujinkan.

Mushin Mukô: no Thinking, no Form


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During the last class, sensei wrote a calligraphy (see picture) saying: 無心 無光, Mushin Mukô (no thinking, no form). It reminded me of Musashi’s 得光, 無光, Ukô Mukô, (with form, without form). Musashi explains that the concept of Kamae is complex as it mixes both the physical and the mental attitudes. He said that Kamae is “not only a physical stance, but varies according to situation, like the shape of water in various vessels. The physical kamae is like a castle but needs a capable Lord within”. I like this image.

Sensei’s Budô is formless and this is what gives it so much power and that is triggering our creativity. There are no preconceived action and no intention. But this is a very high level of expertise and not so many Bujinkan practitioners can even grasp the idea. Needless to say can do it.
In order to reach this level, one must first master the basics and the various Bujinkan fighting systems. This ability of Mushin Mukô appears when your saino konki develops itself enough within the Juppô Sesshô.

Juppô Sesshô by essence cannot tolerate forms nor shapes as it is a natural reaction to a mienai (invisible) situation. Forms and shapes gives you away and might reveal your intentions to the opponent. If you are able to be Mushin Mukô in the fight your body will simply react with adequacy . The outcome is not important. You move naturally, simply surfing the waves of intention of your opponent.

This is why I consider the study of the Tsurugi to be so interesting. The Tsurugi becomes alive because you have mastered the traditional “modern” forms of sword fighting (in the Bujinkan they are to be studied in the kukishin, the togakure, the shotô, the tachi).

Strangely we use an old weapon fighting system through the understanding of its modern evolution. Remember that the Tsurugi has been in use until nearly the end of the Heian Jidai (794–1185)*. Which means that Tsurugi techniques have been used for at least 35 centuries (including China). Comparatively the Tachi and then the katana have been in use for less than 8 centuries of actual warfare (10th to 18th c).

But as sensei explained the written techniques have disappeared (bamboo blades and paper didn’t make it through time) and only the body can recreate the techniques. Now as the Tsurugi created the tachi and the tachi created the katana, then by learning the relatively “modern” ways of tachi and katana, can we rediscover the old fighting experience of our ancestors. I write “ancestors” because the whole world: the Indians, the Romans, the Greeks and the Vikings used the same straight type of blade.

By showing the Tsurugi this year Hatsumi sensei had given us the best tool to get rid of the form. Fighting is about surviving not about looking good. If you know the forms good enough then the Tsurugi will free your taijutsu. But sensei prepared us for this. We studied the sword b going back into time: first ith the Kukishin biken jutsu, then the shotô**, then the togakure sword, then the tachi***. In fact we have been studying sword from modern times going back into the Tsurugi period.

Once understood this concept of 無心 無光, Mushin Mukô (no thinking, no form) with the sword, you can apply it to any type of fighting from taijutsu to any weapon. This is why the Tsurugi is so difficult to understand.

And this is the beauty of the Juppô Sesshô of the Bujinkan martial arts taught by Hatsumi sensei.

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* Middle Heian – Early Kamakura Period (9th – Middle 12th C.)    An important step in the construction of sword was taken when Japanese swordsmiths came to produce a curved-blade of Shinogi-zukuri, that is considered to have innovated from the experience of wars occurred in succession at the turn of the 10th century. The swords of this age are marked with gracefulness. The shape is slender with strong Koshi-zori (waist-curve), the foible curving inward, and the blade tapers toward the Kissaki with the ratio of width of the ricasso (the base of the blade) to that of the top is as 10 to 5.5 or 6, proving to be an effective weapon to make a blow and to aim toward enemy’s throat from the horseback. In appreciation, those features, needless to say, added effect of beauty on sword as artistic asset. From http://www.shibuiswords.com/historynihonto.htm

* * for those interested, when we studied the shotô in 2003, sensei said that these techniques were coming from a fighting system of the Muromachi period that specialized in small swords to fight the huge tachi in use at this time. In this Ryû, they would carry the shotô on the thigh like a tachi (cutting edge down) with the same type of mounting. I am sorry but I don’t remember the name of the Ryû (it is not one if the 9 schools).

*** for those interested, I will give a one week seminar mid August and we will study all the sword techniques from the Bujinkan: kukishin biken, togakure biken, shotô jutsu, tachi waza, and Tsurugi. You can see all the details at http://bujinacademy.isteaching.com/shugyo-seminar-summer-2013.html

Kagirinai no Gaku Jutsu


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Gaku jutsu 学習 is the science of learning or study. And the Bujinkan requires 限り無い の 学習 kagirinai no gaku jutsu, an endless study.

Today at the honbu we were lucky Noguchi sensei gave the two classes as Sôke was busy. In these classes we studied some of the Takagi Yôshin Ryû and the Kukishinden Ryû and we covered many techniques from the various levels of the ryûha, namely: moguri gata, mutô dori, and shoden no Kata. With my partners Alfonso (from Spain) and then Mundo (from Mexico), we did our best to follow the crazy rhythm of teaching of Noguchi sensei. And the extreme heat didn’t help.You would think that all these are known by all of us by now. And it would be untrue.

Noguchi sensei has been teaching at the Honbu since the beginning and he is one of the oldest student of Hatsumi sensei. But it is always a pleasure to see him prepare a technique. His classes always follow the same ritual. He places his notebook by sensei’s door on a stool and studies the text for a few minutes before demonstrating it to us. It is like he is discovering the waza for the first time, and to me this is the true gaku jutsu.Each time he comes up with a new version of the techniques. I have been studying under him for nearly twenty five years now, and I’m always surprised to rediscover these waza as if they were new ones. In fact,when Noguchi sensei reads the text thoroughly he reinvent it completely.After so many years with Hatsumi sensei, one can expect the Japanese Shihan to “know ” the techniques. That would be wrong. They are students. Very advanced ones, but they are still learning and studying. I wondered many times about this and my conclusion is that they don’t learn the waza by heart in order to keep the freshness of creativity. These is what studying is about.

Recently at the Paris Taikai, my friend Sven said that:  “we learn and study in the dôjô with the teacher, and then we train “. This is the way the Shihan do their training, they teach new possibilities each time.I have been studying these same techniques with him many times. I trained them a lot to the point that I even committed dvd’s on these techniques. I taught them in many seminars over the planet, but when I’m studying  in Japan, it is as if the techniques are new to me and I feel lost like a real beginner. This is how gaku jutsu works.This is why I call what we so here in the Bujinkan the kagirinai no gaku jutsu, the endless study. There is no definitive answer. Waza are not chiseled in granite, they are ideas to be interpreted anew each time you study them.This is possible in Japanese because the Japanese language processes with images and not with defined objects as we do in our western languages. So please take some liberties with the texts you have gathered over the years if you want to save your creativity. Don’t do your own thing. Each waza carries within some kaname not to be discarded. But keeping those essential points feel free to adjust the form to the feeling of the day and/or the theme of the year.

This is the same with sensei ‘s books and dvds! And you are surprised to discover it when you have the chance to record a Quest dvd with sensei, because this is exactly the same creative process. We meet usually at the honbu dôjô and we are given a technique to demonstrate. Each one trains and, when asked by sensei, we show our interpretation of it (trying to stick as close as possible to the form demonstrated to us). Then sensei simply does a henka on what we just did. Many Bujinkan followers think that these dvds represent the “correct form “. It’s wrong, they are only sensei’s feeling of the moment. When he was traveling the world, sensei would give more or less the same techniques at each Taikai and when you were lucky to follow his “world tour ” you would study them each time with a different approach. In 1997, I studied the first technique differently in Paris, New Jersey, Barcelona, and Tokyo!This originality of the Bujinkan martial arts is what makes it so valuable compared to the other arts. It also explains why each Shihan teaches these same techniques with a total different approach. One day I asked Sôke if it was logical to think that when in Japan I had the impression to study the Bujinkan with him, but also the Nagato Ryû, the Oguri Ryû, the Senô Ryû, and the Noguchi Ryû? “Yes! ” was his answer.

Our richness lies in the diversity of our interpretations. Our unity is based upon our diversity.  For example if five persons are asked to draw the same tree, you will have five different visions of the same reality. But each tree will have roots in the ground, a trunk, and branches. It is the same with the waza. Like true artists, we express what we are in the instant.

Do not kill the techniques by forcing them into a dead form, on the contrary read them each time as if they were new and interpret them to the best of your ability. Saino konki.

July 26 Bujinkan memories


I arrived yesterday afternoon in Tokyo. It is hot and humid and heavy rains we are expexted over the weekend.
As always the summer trip is special because. I often find myself travelling in July  without any student and this is the occasion to think about the past.

Last June I completed my first thirty years in the Bujinkan and I remember that I went to the first Bujinkan dôjô opened in Paris to check if ninjutsu really existed! I join the dôjô after my first trial and I honestly don’t know today why I did it.

So today some thirty years later I’m still there, training and following the teachings of Hatsumi sensei.

I have been lucky to meet sensei when nearly no one was coming to train here in Noda. There was no hombu dôjô, and Hatsumi sensei mainly taught at Ishizuka ‘s, Noguchi ‘s or Someya’s dôjô. When by chance we were 20 in a class we complained it was impossible to train properly! Things have changed.

I met Sensei in London in 1987 during the first European Taikai organized by my friend Peter King. And I attended many European and American Taikai until he stopped visiting us in 2002.
Since 1990, I trained here in Japan more than 50 times to study the Bujinkan arts with Sensei and his best students.

I got godan in September 1989 at the Munich Taikai.
The jûdan in July 1993 at the first Paris Taikai.
The gold medal of the Bujinkan in November 1994.
The jûgodan in April 2004.
The menkyô kaiden in tachi waza in August 2004.
The Shingitai menkyô in April 2011.
The Shi Tennô menkyô in August 2012.

Nearly all my old students are now evolving on their own, they don’t train with me anymore but I see on the social networks that they are still excelling. After training and traveling to Japan with me many times they exist by themselves. I hoped to meet some of them here as will as many friends from all over the world.

Tonight is the first class with sensei. I’m happy!